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Cyclists Break World Records on Olympic Velodrome Built with Mathematica

When cyclists recently broke Olympic records 21 times and world records twice on the Stone Mountain Velodrome at the 1996 Summer Olympic Games in Atlanta, skeptics swallowed their previous criticisms of this one-of-a-kind racing track. Racing around the 250-meter, steel-supported oval at over 40 miles an hour, cyclists discovered that this track was indeed fast. What many didn't realize was that the track's designers had their eyes on the clock far before the races began, when they actually designed and built the track in record time with the help of Mathematica.

"All calculations for the track's shape (based on Fresnel integrals) and component specifications were done entirely in Mathematica," says designer Chris Nadovich. "It would have taken a whole team of engineers months to do all the calculations and analysis manually. It took me only a few weeks to write my Mathematica program, and then it did all the calculations on my 486 in just three hours." Mathematica solved simultaneous systems of symbolic equations to produce precise numerical descriptions of each and every one of the 20,000-some pieces of steel on which the steeply banked track surface would rest.

Nadovich believes this precision directly contributed to the racers' record-breaking speeds on the track. It has to do with the pole line (indicated by the black line you see painted on the track) that cyclists follow to get the most efficient ride. "All other tracks have some variation in that line, so riders waver about six inches up and down during each lap," says Nadovich. "In my Mathematica model, that line was one of the constraints, and I was able to design the whole track around it. I made it completely flat--a 'zero bubble' pole line."

In fact, it was in large part due to Mathematica that amateur cyclists Nadovich and Dale Hughes dared to submit their proposal for this revolutionary track to the Atlanta Committee for the Olympic Games (ACOG) in the first place. "Key to our winning the bid was price," explains Nadovich, an electrical engineer by profession. Reducing the cost of the project by several hundred thousand dollars is the fact that this track, unlike any other official racing track in the world, is completely modular.

Now that the Games are over, the whole structure has been dismantled and either stored or transported to a new location. This eliminates the highly expensive demolition that would be required for a traditional wooden track. "Given that the ACOG wanted the venue removed and park restored to its natural state after the Games, ours was the most economic concept," says Nadovich.

In addition to cost, the ACOG had to consider the fact that Nadovich and Hughes had no prior world-class velodrome-building experience, whereas the international leader in this business has been constructing velodromes for over a hundred years. "I believe we overcame the Committee's reservations because we were able to show so much detail in our proposal," says Nadovich. "With Mathematica, I could write initial code for the model quickly and generate numbers that could be read directly by a CAD drawing program. I think the realistic three-dimensional visualizations helped convince them we knew how to put this together exactly the way they wanted it."

Want more details? Find out more about the Olympic velodrome. You can also read about other interesting uses of Mathematica.